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the collector

The Collector
Marcus Dunstan
Cast: Madeline Zima, Andrea Roth, Josh Stewart, Juan Fernandez, Daniella Alonso, Robert Wisdom, Michael Reilly Burke, Karley Scott Collins

Joanne Ross

August 14, 2009


I’m a horror film enthusiast which accounts for why I try to catch as many of the latest releases as I can. I’m just not enthusiastic about the school of pessimistic, sadistic horror, a sub-genre dubbed “torture porn”, or as another reviewer described it, “gorno”. I don’t get a perverse thrill out of witnessing the seeming myriad ways one can butcher and carve up human beings like so many slabs of beef. However, though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I do still watch the occasional one because, however repulsive the subject matter, my motto is to give credit where credit is due. So if, in such a film, the conventions are employed with such craft as to achieve a pervasive atmosphere of dread and induce terror and suspense of unbearable intensity in my mind then it deserves a shout out. The Collector scared me rigid, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay a horror film director. As the creative talent behind the last two installments in the successful Saw franchise, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton continue their morbid fascination with medieval bloodlust in their new film.

I need to clarify three things. First, if you are expecting logic and common sense, or even a back story, you won’t find it. Second, if you think the Collector is as intelligent and clever as Jigsaw, you’ll be disappointed. He’s simply a silent, hulking maniac of the Jason and Michael Myers variety. And third, there is no real plot, just a simple setup. Ex-convict turned repairman Arkin (Josh Stewart) is the unfortunate victim of irony. To repay his ex-wife’s debt to a loan shark, he breaks into his employer’s home to steal a valuable jewel. What he doesn’t realize is that there is another stranger in the house also intent on taking something, a serial killer with a penchant for collecting animate objects – namely people. Arkin discovers the family is still alive. Should he escape or rescue them? As it turns out, the guy doesn’t really have a choice because he finds out the hard way that he too is trapped like a rat in a cage decked out with elaborately rigged booby traps. He has to tread carefully to avoid triggering the trip wires or risk getting perforated or worse.

The energetic camera work and editing is especially effective as it follows the two men engaging in an adroit cat and mouse game as they maneuver their way through the shadowy rooms, hallways, and recesses of the house; one the predator, the other the prey. I found myself holding my breath and gripping the armrests as I watched them nimbly dodge one another.

On the downside, the story sparked a lot of questions for me. What is the killer’s motive? If he already captured most of the family, why does he need the traps? And when did he have time to rig these contraptions? These are just a few of the things I wanted answers to. Furthermore, the action in the The Collector is needlessly drawn out especially given there is no real story, just a series of grisly acts of cruelty strung together.

The overall atmosphere of torture porn is one of sadistic cruelty, pessimism and despair. There is nothing uplifting or life affirming about these movies. If anything, there is an attitude of disregard for the value of human life that seems to drive these films. That is why I question the need to make them in the first place. Still, they do exist as a sub-genre, so I must ask, as I do of all horror films, did it succeed in scaring me, as a horror film should? The Collector delivered on that score.

It’s impossible to hope for a happy ending in a movie where the bad guy is impervious to injury and immune from capture. Do I smell a sequel here? Only the box office receipts will determine that.*-JR


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